Habitat’s Veterans Initiative
By Phil Kloer
Habitat for Humanity International is expanding its capacity to serve veterans and active military as homeowner partners and volunteers. In cooperation with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), Habitat is developing a Veterans Initiative.
CNCS will strengthen and expand its local efforts and develop resources that support local Habitat affiliates’ veterans programs. The goal is to better serve veterans and active military.
From coast to coast, military veterans and active military personnel are pitching in as Habitat volunteers, sometimes building for fellow vets or active military, sometimes for civilians. This partnership — between the country’s biggest builder of simple, decent, affordable housing and those who have served or are serving their country — is growing.
Some recent examples of Habitat’s work with veterans and active military around the United States:
- Tom Riley, former Marine Corps captain and volunteer
Tom Riley earned a Bronze Star while serving in Vietnam in the ‘60s. He’s also a dedicated Habitat for Humanity volunteer in Orange County, California. There, he has helped build 11 houses for veterans and active military personnel in San Juan Capistrano, a project dubbed Habitat for Heroes.
Riley recalled building a Habitat house with a huge turnout of Marine volunteers from nearby Camp Pendleton. “The Marines didn’t have any particular building talent,” Riley said, “but they were young and in shape and aggressive. You’d say, ‘I need four guys up on the roof to load tile.’ Before you stopped talking, there are eight of them standing on the roof yelling: ‘Throw me the tile!’”
- Diana Eagan, veteran and Habitat homeowner
Diana Eagan now lives in one of those Habitat for Heroes houses in San Juan Capistrano. “There was a sense of teamwork, that we come from this place that maybe other people aren’t familiar with,” she said of the 2010 build. “There’s this feeling of Semper Fi — the Marine Corps motto — it just kicks in that we’re all in this together. We worked on each other’s homes and it was important to do a good job because we knew that these were going to be our neighbors.”
- Michael Gates, Vietnam veteran and Habitat homeowner
When Michael Gates of Knoxville, Tenn., first got the phone call, he almost hung up. “This group called and said they were with the Tennessee Veterans Business Association and I thought it was a marketing call and they were going to ask me for money,” he said. “But I’m glad I didn’t because they said, ‘We’d like to come out and help you build your house.’”
One Saturday morning in April, Gates’ Habitat house was just a concrete slab. At the end of that first day, thanks to a turnout of more than 100 veterans and active military, the walls were up and the roof was finished. “Whenever you run into veterans, you feel like they’re your brothers, that you have camaraderie,” said Gates, 63, a Vietnam Marine Corps veteran who is now living in the first home that he owns.
- Ronald Moulden, veteran, Habitat volunteer and homeowner
In Annapolis and Baltimore, Md., more than 125 veterans turned out to build homes in a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake and the CNCS. Among the volunteers was Ronald Moulden, a Marine veteran, father of four and Habitat homeowner. Moulden’s Habitat house was built during the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project the previous fall.
“This house is something I worked for, a goal I have achieved,” Moulden said. “And it is something to leave to the kids when I pass.”
- Pat Filippone, volunteer coordinator
Four wounded warrior volunteers are Pat Filippone’s “core team” at Habitat for Humanity of Osceola County, Florida. “Whatever we need, they take charge and do it,” she said. “Their leadership, their organizational skills, the ability to work as a team make them outstanding volunteers.”
“Because some veterans can feel displaced when they return to the United States, Filippone said, the Osceola affiliate is looking into building special housing for single veterans.
Those are just a few of the many stories of how Habitat is working with and for veterans and active military. The relationship is also strong in other locations, from Washington, D.C. to Jacksonville, Florida to Tacoma, Washington.
“These men and women have served or are serving their country in a crucial capacity, but they are also serving their communities,” said Peter Rumsey, director of National Service for Habitat for Humanity International. “We owe them tremendous gratitude.”